Oshoko (お焼香) “Burning of Incense”

Regardless of whether one is Buddhist or not, everyone is welcomed to burn incense. The following steps describe the correct way of burning incense (please note that it is okay to make a mistake. These steps are being provided to help those who have never participated in incense burning before to gain a sense of familiarity with the ritual. One should keep in mind, however, that what is more important than doing the ritual correctly with one’s body, is to do it sincerely with one’s heart).

  • Approximately two steps from the incense burner, stop with your feet together (side by side).
  • From the standing posture, bow. Return to an upright standing posture.
  • From the standing posture, take a step (or two) forward beginning with your left foot. You should be close enough to the incense burner to easily place ground incense inside the burner.
  • Take a pinch of incense from the incense caddy that is placed just before the incense burner with your right hand and drop or sprinkle (please do not throw) the ground incense inside the burner.
  • Place the palms of both your hands together and place your joined hands chest high. If possible, your hands should be at a 45 degree angle. This gesture is known as Gassho (lit. “palms joined”).
  • While in Gassho, bow.
  • Finish the bow by returning to an upright position (with your hands still doing Gassho).
  • Lower your hands and place them by your sides.
  • Take a step (or two) back beginning with your right foot.
  • Finish with a bow.

Although there is quite a bit of detail, part of the reason for the practice of incense burning is to help teach us how to be mindful. Left, right for example is typically not a difficult concept for us. However, it is remarkable how often we take for granted our left foot and our right foot. Oshoko reminds us how to be mindful of something that because it is obvious, becomes invisible to us. At the funeral service, we are reminded to be mindful of just how rare “today” really is. It is also a ritual that helps us to be mindful of how connected we really are. Each grain of ground incense placed in the incense burner produces that much more smoke, allowing the incense to share more of its wonderful aroma with others. In this connection we are hopefully able to see how sharing life makes all life that much bigger and that much more wonderful.

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